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Rocksteady's Sefton Hill Unmasks Batman: Arkham Asylum
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Rocksteady's Sefton Hill Unmasks Batman: Arkham Asylum

October 19, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next
 

I thought that the storytelling in Batman was quite well-executed. It was a good mix of cutscenes and the Joker over the speaker, and with the hints like the tapes laying around that help you figure out what's going on in the backstory. Can you comment on the decision behind how many cutscenes there should be? The use of cutscenes is still an ongoing discussion with developers.

SH: I have a strong opinion on cutscenes in games, really. Personally, I think cutscenes should be used to advance the story and display the relationships between characters -- things that can't be done within the action. Cutscenes shouldn't really be used for the action. That's what the game is there for. There's a lot of cutscenes in games that show you a lot of really cool action, but then you get to play the game and you don't actually get to do that.

For Batman, we really wanted the cutscenes to advance the relationships between the characters. There were situations where we felt we needed to do that, but we didn't want the cutscenes to display big action sequences that you wouldn't assign to the player. When you get that kind of thing, it really disengages you, because you feel like, "Why aren't I able to do that? That's what I want to do. That's why I'm holding the pad!"

The relationships are when you get to do cutscenes, and it naturally brings you into the game. Obviously, there are things you can't do with a pad, so I think there's a balance to the cutscenes.

We have to know their place within the game, and we have to share this relationship with the characters. Each of the cutscenes is designed in a way that they all change the values of the game. They all change the value of what you're doing at any particular time.

Never in Batman should you watch a scene and find what you're doing has not changed, or the importance of your actions has not changed in any way. You learn something new that makes you think about the story in a different way or want to do something in a different way. It's quite easy to write a lot of scenes on paper, but they're not affecting the play experience. We really wanted the cutscenes to do that when you played the game.

Can you speak of any particular challenges that immediately come to mind that you encountered during the development of the game?

SH: There's a couple of things that spring to mind. Combat was probably the biggest design challenge that we had, because we wanted to create something that was unique for Batman. Also, we had the philosophy that if it's something that's simple for Batman to do in his world, then it should be easy for the player to execute as well. That's where the combat's simple controls came from.

But we went through a number of systems in the game. The combat in the final game is actually the third combat system that we had. That was quite a challenging area, because combat has been done a lot in games, and we really wanted it to feel fresh and new for Batman. I think that definitely was a big challenge for us.

We had invested a lot of time purely in the gameplay. We'd spent weeks and weeks tweaking the controls, and during that time, it can be quite difficult, because there's always a pressure to make things more showy and look more amazing, but we felt that people respond well to something that just played great. We spent a lot of time making it play great before it looked great. That was a big challenge for us.

And then there's the classic challenge that you get striking a balance between design and art. Both sides need to complement each other, and I think that was something we were really successful with in Batman. The environment is always clear and readable. It's always easy to see what's happening and where you need to go and what's interactive. But at the same time, it looks beautiful as well. That took a lot of work. The design team and the art team deserve a lot of credit for the work they did on that.


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Comments


Tim Huntsman
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Great article. Interesting insight into how you approached the essence of your character and made design decisions based on what supports what core.

It's also good to see the argument "Less is More" reiterated--that can be a hard notion to get across to certain groups.

Sylviano Dolce
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Funny he mentions a cutscene mustn't show some action because it would frustrate players, that's exaclty what happens in the last cutscene : we as player totally wanted to do ingame what batman did :(

Eddie Vertigo
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Batman: Arkham Asylum was a fantastic game, one of the few games I will keep in my collection permanently, and I truly hope they make a sequel.

Chris Ainsworth
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"Also, we had the philosophy that if it's something that's simple for Batman to do in his world, then it should be easy for the player to execute as well. That's where the combat's simple controls came from."



I love that idea.

Trent Kusters
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"That project took just over a year, and after we finished that, we started to work on a number of different prototypes using Unreal Engine 3 for a next-gen game on 360 and PS3. That was the first time we'd used Unreal, and we worked on that for about a year."



Well, that just makes me want to end it all right now. In the time they were prototyping we'd released four games for 5 different platforms.



What I would give to be in a position to be able to have that much attention to R&D. Phenomenal. To all those at Rocksteady; please realise how extremely rare this is and be appreciative, always.


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